When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15)
What’s the strangest scene in the entire Bible? The frogs falling from the sky? That’s a pretty good one. What about Balaam’s donkey turning around and demanding that Balaam stop hitting him? Sheesh. That would get your attention. Maybe Ezekiel’s vision of wheels with eyes all over them? Creepy, right?
I’ve always thought that one of the strangest scenes in the Bible is recorded in a comment the apostle John makes in chapter 6 of his gospel. Jesus had just performed the miracle of multiplying the loaves and fishes. From five pieces of bread and two small fish, Jesus feeds five thousand people and has enough leftovers for lunch the next day. The people are absolutely amazed by what they’ve seen. So much so that they declare as one, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world” (v. 14).
The people were so overwhelmed by what Jesus had done that they immediately agree together that Jesus must be the messiah—the long-awaited prophet-king who would come to rescue the people of God and rule over the world forever and ever. And yet, something so very strange was happening in their hearts. And Jesus saw it as it was happening.
John writes, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (v. 15). Wait… what? Did you catch that? They intended to make him king? So… if they wanted to make him their king it kind of seems like they were under the impression that he wasn’t yet their king. They seemed to think that he needed them to make him their king.
Maybe they thought that he still needed a crown or a robe or a throne in order to be a proper king—not realizing that his crown is power, his robe is heaven, and his throne is not of this earth. In fact, the earth is merely his footstool (Isa. 66:1). And what kind of king did they think he was going to be, exactly, if they thought they could take him by force and make him king? What kind of king would you be if your own subjects could take you by force and make you to do what they want you to do? That’s called a puppet king.
On the other hand… Don’t we all do this? Don’t we all try to force Jesus to be the kind of king we want him to be?
Don’t we all try to dictate to him when he’s going to be king, and what things in our life we will and won’t let him be king over? Don’t we all decide that we will only follow Jesus if he doesn’t demand too much of us? If he doesn’t ask us to step out into risky situations for the gospel? If he doesn’t call us out of our comfortable and self-centered lifestyle for kingdom causes? If he doesn’t point to our sin and say, “Turn. Turn from that. Why will you die?”
Jesus is not a tyrant king. He is a king who loves us enough to die for us. But he is also most definitely not a puppet king who will always approve and always agree with whatever we want him to do or be. He is most definitely not a king who will let us define him by our own preferences of how we think he should be. He said, “I AM that I am.” Which means, he defines himself. We can never invite him to get on board with our plan for our lives. If he is truly the king our only decision is whether we will get on board with his plan for the rescue and restoration of his world, or whether we will rebel and continue to contribute the decay of the world.
For far too long, I allowed myself to imagine that I defined what kind of king Jesus would be to me, and what parts of my life he would be given access to. I know many of you can relate. May we be people who invite and embrace the benevolent reign of Christ over every part of our lives.
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! …For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:39, 46-47)
What do you think about when you hear that name? Maybe some famous photo of the boxer. Probably the one where he has his glove up, jawing at a fallen Sonny Liston. “Dance like a butterfly, sting like a bee”? Will Smith, maybe?
Some of us immediately think of the attitude. The “I-own-this-world” bombast that would have been incredibly annoying if it wasn’t so awesomely entertaining. Ali was famous not only for his skill and strength in the ring, but also for laying the praise on pretty thick when he was talking about himself.
Here’s some of my favorite Ali sound bites. Even if arrogance isn’t your thing, just try to stop yourself from grinning when you read these:
“I am the greatest. I said that even before I knew I was.”
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”
“If you even dream of beating me you’d better wake up and apologize.”
When people accused him a being a braggart, he said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” The problem was that Ali couldn’t always back it up. He lost to Frazier and (a few) others. He wasn’t really (quite) faster than light. And while he may very well have been the greatest boxer of all time, there was always One who was greater than him. Still, there’s a certain truth in what Ali said: “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.”
Jesus makes some absolutely stunning claims in John 5. Try to imagine yourself being there when he said it, and think about how crazy the sheer magnitude of these claims would have sounded coming out of the mouth of a human being:
“Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” (v. 9)
“Just as the Father gives life to those he raises from the dead, so the Son gives life to anyone he wants.” (v. 21)
“[The Father] has given the Son absolute authority to judge, so that everyone will honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.” (v. 23)
“The Father has life-giving power in himself, and he has granted that same life-giving power to his Son.” (v. 26)
“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (v. 39)
“If you really believed in Moses, you would believe in me, because he wrote about me.” (v. 46)
When Jesus says these things, is he bragging? Is he hopelessly arrogant? Is he pridefully self-centered. Well, that all depends. Muhammad Ali might ask: Can he back it up? In fact, everything about Jesus’s birth, life, death and resurrection backs up what Jesus says about himself. Jesus is one with the Father. He has all the power of the One Great God. He is the Lord of Heaven and Earth. He is the Alpha and the Omega. The beginning and the end. And only he is truly The Greatest.
What would change about the way we view our lives and the world if we fully grasped and embraced that Jesus is the greatest—the greatest treasure, the greatest peace, the greatest life-giver, the greatest joy, the greatest king and ruler of this world and of our lives, the greatest comfort, the greatest priority, the greatest satisfaction, and the greatest love?
May we live, today, believing that Jesus is the Greatest.
I’ve never undertaken a serious, extended study on the Book of Revelation.
Have you? I wanted to do an independent study on it in seminary, but couldn’t fit it into my course load. I thought about preaching through it at one point, but, honestly, I didn’t know if I was up to the task. I’m working my butt off in the real estate world right now (Anyone looking to sell their home? Anyone know anyone who’s looking to sell their home?), but unlike when I was in full-time ministry, my mind isn’t currently dominated by any one particular biblical book or text because I’m not preaching on Sunday. So, now might be the perfect time to wrestle with this crazy and confusing book, because I have a lot of mental and spiritual bandwidth available.
I’m not sure what exactly my plan will be yet, or how slowly or quickly I’ll proceed. My invitation to you is to become a partner in the dialogue throughout. My guess is that I won’t write a single post in this entire series in which I am completely confident in my understanding and conclusions. Every post will represent my “understanding at the moment,” which will leave a lot of room for dialogue and learning-in-common. You can comment below the posts and contribute with your thoughts or questions. You can also certainly feel free to email me at email@example.com or via Facebook message if you’re rather keep the dialogue between you and me. I really would love to hear from you so that we can all learn from each other.
If I could have you all over each week for some of my beautiful bride’s increasingly famous manicotti and some conversation about the book, that would be ideal. But I think this forum might suffice (and be significantly less overwhelming for Leslie than to make several thousand manicotti shells. I don’t know. I’ll ask her).
Give me a couple weeks to get a head start. In the mean time, I’ll finish out my posts from the Gospel of John, and Steve will finish out his posts from his year-long study of the entire Bible (see below). What an awesome project that’s been. I’ve loved watching him do it.
Here’s what I’m looking forward to, based on what I already know about Revelation: Revelation is for worshipers. It paints a portrait of a massive and beautiful and majestic God, who deserves all glory and honor. Revelation is for doubters. It lets us know that we are a part of a story that has a certain ending, because it is written by the one true sovereign. Revelation is for the weak but willing. It puts steel in the spine of those who desire courage and boldness. Revelation is for conquerors. It reminds us from whom our greatest strength comes and for whom we’re conquering. Revelation is for the evil. It reminds them that their time is short. And Revelation is for the broken. It reveals for us how all of the shattered pieces will be put back together again.
Looking forward to reading with you, friends.
Daily Scripture readings for April, set #25:
“Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia” (Dan 10:12-14). If we are to define “spiritual warfare” as conflict in the spiritual realm that is largely off the radar of the human realm, then this text is one of the more interesting accounts I’ve ever found. Situation summary: Daniel begins “praying” (humbling himself and setting his heart to understand), an angel is immediately sent to “answer” him, the angel is delayed in some sort of battle with the “prince of the kingdom of Persia,” another more senior-ranking angel (Michael) comes to aid the first angel, and the message eventually gets to Daniel. That is fascinating to me.
“Agree with God, and be at peace; thereby good will come to you” (Job 22:21). I think I understand Eliphaz’s argument correctly. He is basically saying that Job’s suffering means that Job has sinned, and if he would just stop sinning then clear and visible blessings would come to him instead of his very clear and visible suffering. If this is indeed what Eliphaz is implying then Eliphaz has probably been hanging out with prosperity gospel preachers, because that is classic health and wealth logic.
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). This is one of my favorite verses. It’s just so straight-forward and so compelling. Ever wonder how you might go about declaring to “all people” that you are a disciple of Jesus? Answer: John 13:35.
“And have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude, vs 22). Why? Why should we have mercy on those who doubt? Is it maybe because we too once doubted, and even still sometimes doubt? Is it because if not for the Spirit’s work in opening our eyes we would all STILL doubt? Yes. Have mercy on those who doubt.
Daily Scripture readings for May, set #1:
“And the Lord said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.’ Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ it shall be said to them, ‘Children of the living God.’” (Hos 1:9-10). The people of Israel had sinned enough to deserve verse 9. Verse 10, then, is the definition of mercy. Along these lines, consider verse 23 of chapter 2: “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’”
“I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me” (Job 23:4-5). This is my attempt at a paraphrase of what Job is saying here: “I wish God and I could just sit down and talk this out. I’d present to him my way of seeing things and I know that he’d agree with me. My way of looking at this situation is definitely the best way and I don’t think God would be able to change my mind on that.” It’s… well… pretty arrogant. PERHAPS Job didn’t deserve the suffering that he went through, but he definitely deserves the verbal rebuke that he gets at the end of the book.
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves” (Jn 14:9-11). This is some SERIOUS doctrine of the Trinity right here.
“The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:1-2). So then, the book of Revelation is God’s Word, via an angel, and recorded by John. That’s pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, it’s uncomfortably similar to what Joseph Smith claimed. What do we do with that similarity?
A man was there who had been crippled for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and usually while I’m going in someone else steps down in front me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up. Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was cured and he picked up his mat and walked.” (John 5:5-9)
Has anyone ever asked you to do something you knew you could not do?
Not something you doubted that you could do, but something you absolutely knew for certain that you couldn’t do? My little boy once asked me to lift him up high enough so that he could touch the moon. It felt like the kind of thing that would have locked up “Greatest Father In History” for me if I could have pulled it off. I lifted him up as high as I could and stretched my arms as far as they would go, and he thought it was a lot of fun and thought I was pretty awesome for trying. But of course I knew before I picked him up that I (probably) wasn’t quite going to be able to reach.
Jesus asked a man to do something like that once.
During one of his trips to Jerusalem he saw a disabled man sitting near a shallow pool called Bethesda that was thought to have healing power. (Ever wondered why so many hospitals are called “Bethesda Something or Other Hospital”? There you have it.) The problem for the man was that he was so crippled that he couldn’t even get himself into the pool to try to heal his broken body.
Jesus, who had never met the man, asked him if he wanted to be healed. I love that question, by the way. I wonder what kind of look Jesus had on his face when he asked it. When Jesus asked people that, how many do you think said, “Eh. No thanks. I’m good”? But the man indicates that if that were at all possible, sure, he’d be up for getting healed.
What happens next is startling. Jesus says something to the man that must have sounded to those standing nearby like the most unbelievably rude thing anyone could have said to a crippled man: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
Just think about this for a second. If you saw some guy walk up to a guy in a wheelchair and say, “Get up. Put your chair away and walk,” how would you respond? I’d be furious! I think I’d want to shove that guy up against a wall by the neck and give him a little talking-to about what you do and don’t get to say to a disabled person.
Jesus might as well have told the crippled man to touch the moon. He was commanding the impossible. But then, of course, something incredible happened: “At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (v. 9). How? How does that happen? How did that guy obey an impossible command?
The answer is that when Jesus commanded the impossible, he also made the man able to obey the impossible. His impossible command came with the power to obey it.
Jesus is always doing stuff like that. He once said to a dead man, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:43). How can a dead man obey that command?! You ever thought about that? How crazy is it to command a dead man to do something?
But that’s just the point, isn’t it? None of us can obey anything God says unless he heals us. Unless he empowers us. Unless he makes us able to obey him. Sinners like you and me are not capable of doing anything good apart from God’s grace at work in us. So, for example, when God commands us to “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Rom. 10), we should feel desperate for God because we know it is impossible for us to love others genuinely and to honor them above ourselves unless he pours his grace into our hearts and makes us able to obey his command.
And he does. Every day.
He pours out his grace and moves in us by his Holy Spirit who dwells in our hearts, so that we can live for him. And so that he receives all (not part) of the glory when we love and live for him. If I love another person genuinely today, it’s not because I’m good. It’s because God poured good into a sinner. If you honor someone above yourself today, it’s not because you’re inherently other-centered. It’s because God poured other-centeredness into you.
So, Father, pour into us everything we need today to love people well, to heal and restore the world, and to bring fame to your name. Amen.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)
Have you ever been in a conversation that was so uncomfortable that you just had to change the subject abruptly? It’s pretty well known, for example, that if you’re among Minnesotans, you’re not supposed to bring up religion, politics or money. For whatever reason, those are especially uncomfortable topics of conversation for people in these parts. We’ve all experienced that moment when someone brings up a touchy subject and everyone else at the dinner table gets wide-eyed and just looks down at their plate and hopes someone else changes the subject.
There’s a situation just like that in John 4. Jesus is sitting at a well, talking with a Samaritan woman. The conversation up to this point has been friendly and considerate (albeit maybe a little strange). But suddenly the conversation takes a turn into the super awkward.
Jesus gets really personal. He tells the woman, “Go, call your husband and come back,” knowing full well that that question was going to be incredibly awkward and uncomfortable for the woman. She knows she’s living in sin. She’s living with a dude she’s not married to. And Jesus’s question is going to reveal it. So she answers the way we sinners so often do—with a half-truth: “I have no husband.” Was that true? Well, technically, yes. She does not have a husband. But that’s also not the whole story. Unfortunately for her (and us), God always knows the whole story. So Jesus says to her, “I know. You’ve actually had five husbands, and you’re not even married to the man you’re living with now” (vv. 17-18).
Jesus’s direct and unapologetic response to her lifestyle choices is so uncomfortable and awkward for her that she brushes it off—basically pretends she didn’t her him—and immediately changes the subject and asks him for his opinion on a controversy about worship: “Well… um… What do you think about this whole ‘Mount Gerzim controversy?’” (see v. 20).
Have you ever been there? I know I have.
The Spirit of God speaks to me. He weighs on my conscience. He points right at some sinful choices I’ve been making. And I know he’s right. I know I’m guilty. I know I’ve been caught, but I think to myself, “Maybe if I can quickly change the subject, God will just drop it.” So, God says, “My friend, talk to me about this anger I’m seeing in your heart.” And I say, “Well… um… Don’t you think we should sing more hymns in church, God?” Or he asks me about the way I’ve been using my money, and I say, “Well… you know… What’s with these hurricanes I’ve been seeing on the news, God?” Or he points at your kids and says, “Talk to me about why you’re not setting aside enough time to love and encourage and disciple them.” And you shift in your seat and say, “Yeah… So… What’s the deal with the Boston Marathon bombings? How come you didn’t step in?”
We become so uncomfortable when he know someone else knows about the secret (or not-so-secret) sins of our hearts. And the worst news of all is that the One who cares most about these sins and pays the most attention to them is actually the One who can see all of them all the time.
But here’s the good news: We do not have to be afraid of these conversations with our Father.
God always has our best interests in mind when he raises these issues with us. Just as the best of parents have their children’s best interests in mind when we engage them in conversation about their disobedience. The best of parents bring these things up not to condemn and not to chide, but to shape and disciple and to shepherd their children’s hearts for the good of their children. For their joy and peace and happiness. And God the Father is the best of parents.
He loves us more than we can possibly imagine. And he wants to give us the water will become in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 14). He wants us to have life, and have it fully. May we never hide from him. May we look him in the eyes as he talks with us about our sin, helps us understand and fight it, and offers the forgiveness and cleaning that his son freely bought for us.
Daily Scripture readings for April, set #23:
“And I, Daniel, was overcome and lay sick for some days. Then I rose and went about the king’s business, but I was appalled by the vision and did not understand it” (Dan 8:27). This is Daniel having a vision about the future, about things that the Lord has planned and will allow/accomplish, and he is not encouraged by this vision. He literally gets sick over it. This is a good reminder to me that the Lord’s grand plans include things that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen if it were up to me, things that might even really bum me out.
“You say, ‘God stores up their iniquity for their children.’ Let him pay it out to them, that they may know it” (Job 21:19). Job is impatient for justice to be done to the wicked, a sentiment I have shared many times. God has his own timing for this, however, and he is patient and merciful. God’s mercy toward the wicked as compared to my impatience is one of the things that makes him God.
“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you” (Jn 13:14-15). The economy and functionality of authority and rank in the Kingdom of God is not the same as in the kingdom of man.
“Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude, vs 5). Jude nonchalantly credits JESUS with bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, even though Jesus is never mentioned in the Exodus account. This would be worth pointing out in any discussion about the doctrine of the Trinity.
Daily Scripture readings for April, set #24:
“For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy” (Dan 9:18). Wow, does Daniel ever NAIL the essence of the Gospel with this sentence. This is Daniel’s version of Psalm 115:1.
“One dies in his full vigor, being wholly at ease and secure, his pails full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them” (Job 21:23-26). Rich or poor, everybody dies.
“Then after he had taken the morsel, Satan entered into him” (Jn 13:27). So is Satan to blame, instead of Judas? Does Satan entering Judas absolve Judas of responsibility for his actions? It’s a question worth pondering.
“But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively” (Jude, vs 10). Note that the destruction comes at the hand of instinct. In other words, the wicked in this text are instinctively doing that which kills them.